Telco giant AT&T plans to deploy its LTE-M network for Internet of Things (IoT) devices across North America by Q2 2017.
The network will support the company’s roll out of 4G LTE in the United States and, later in the year, Mexico.
The announcement follows AT&T’s successful pilot of its LTE-M low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) in San Ramon, California, back in October 2016.
Turning to LTE-M
Currently, AT&T’s 4G LTE network covers roughly 400 million people across the USA and Mexico, but with the proliferation of IoT, it needs a network that can support other connected devices.
LTE-M is a variant of the traditional Long Term Evolutionary cellular technology. It was designed specifically for machine-to-machine communications.
The technology is better suited to large-scale IoT deployments than LTE because it supports a wide variety of low-power, low-cost devices without draining battery life too quickly. It also provides coverage deep inside buildings and underground where other traditional networks cannot reach.
“We’ve joined with Altair, Ericsson and technology leaders from across the ecosystem to launch the first LTE-M enabled commercial site in North America,” said Chris Penrose, president of Internet of Things solutions at AT&T.
“Innovations like LTE-M will bring IoT to more end points than ever before. It’s part of our strategy to offer the widest range of IoT network options to our customers.”
Testing and future plans
AT&T is evaluating the performance of its network and chipset technologies alongside a number of technology partners.
The company said it has also launched a second pilot in the Columbus, Ohio market alongside other partners, with testing set to continue through March.
Could Apple be involved?
In comments to Internet of Business, Tom Rebbeck, an analyst at Analysys Mason, took a pragmatic approach to the announcement, cautioning:
“The upgrade to LTE-M should be just a software upgrade for most base stations, so roll out shouldn’t be too difficult. It’s good to see AT&T moving ahead with LTE-M but we probably shouldn’t read too much into it.”
“The focus of the US operators on LTE-M is interesting. Both AT&T and Verizon are planning LTE-M networks. No operator is planning NB-IoT, possibly as Huawei, one of the main proponents of NB-IoT, cannot sell in the US.
“AT&T has given details of some of its partners for the initial trial. A more intriguing question, though, is who else is trialing it? Given that the initial network was in San Francisco, could Apple be involved? An LTE-M connected Apple Watch could be an interesting proposition.”